Braves are making Madison Bumgarner a “priority”

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Wanna feel what it’s like to have your brain explode? Then try this one on: Madison Bumgarner is younger than Stephen Strasburg.

I know, right? I re-learn that fact every year or two and still blows my dang mind.

Anyway, I mention that because Madison Bumgarner, like Strasburg, is a free agent, and yesterday NBC Sports California’s Alex Pavlovic reported that “[p]er league sources, the Braves have made Bumgarner a priority and planned to quickly communicate that to the left-hander.” Pavlovic characterizes the Braves as the “clear favorite” if Bumgarner decides to sign with a new team rather than ink a new deal with the Giants.

It’s a good fit at least on a superficial level. Bumgarner is a southern guy, hailing from North Carolina. For years people have joked that Bumgarner’s well-known habit of being the fun police with respect to opposing players celebrating is in keeping with the reputation the Braves have developed along those lines. I think it’s quite easy to overplay that kind of thing based on some isolated incidents, but there is at least a sense, based on what one can see of the Braves’ culture and Bumgarner’s temperament, that there’d be a good fit there.

More substantively, the Braves are currently a contender and the Giants are not so, if Bumgarner values playing for a winner more than the continuity and and comfort re-signing with the Giants might provide, it could inspire him to take his business across the country. For the Braves’ part, they could use another reliable starting pitcher and could certainly afford it.

And yeah, it’s weird to call Bumgarner merely “reliable” given that he has been one of the best in the game at times in his career. Over the past few seasons his ace-like status has taken a step or two back, however. He had a couple of freak, non-pitching-related injuries that shortened his 2017 and 2018 seasons and, in 2019, he posted his worst ERA+ in seven seasons. While he has given no indication that he’s tiring or breaking down due to all of the miles he’s put on his left arm over the past 11 seasons — his velocity and strikeout rates were up last season and he led the league in games started — the mileage is still there. He may be less of a number one starter than a number two guy now, at least on a contender.

But, obviously, there is a ton of value to what Bumgarner brings to the table. You have to figure that you can plug him into the rotation and expect 30+ starts and 200 innings, give or take, of above-average and occasionally great pitching. That’s a huge boon to any team, both for its own sake and for what a horse like he is can do to help preserve the bullpen arms in the heat of summer. And, quite obviously, the guy knows his way around the postseason.

The Braves are not, recently anyway, known for making the boldest of moves in the free agent market. But that could change pretty quickly based on this report.

Jacob deGrom, oft-injured Rangers ace, to have season-ending right elbow surgery

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers signed Jacob deGrom to a $185 million, five-year deal in free agency last winter hoping the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner could help them get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and make a push toward winning a World Series.

They also knew the risks, with the pitcher coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the New York Mets.

Even with deGrom sidelined since late April, the AL West-leading Rangers are off to the best start in franchise history – but now will be without their prized acquisition until at least next year. The team said Tuesday that deGrom will have season-ending surgery next week to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

“We’ve got a special group here and to not be able to be out there and help them win, that stinks,” deGrom said, pausing several times with tears in his eyes. “Wanting to be out there and helping the team, it’s a disappointment.”

General manager Chris Young said Tuesday the decision on surgery came after an MRI on deGrom’s ailing right elbow, but the extent of what is required might not be determined until the operation is performed next week.

Tommy John surgery, in which the damaged ligament is replaced, is often needed to fix a torn UCL, but Young and the Rangers didn’t go as far as saying the pitcher would have that particular procedure. After being drafted by the New York Mets in 2010, deGrom made six starts in the minors that summer before needing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2011, three years before his big league debut.

DeGrom last pitched April 28 against the New York Yankees, when he exited early because of injury concerns for the second time in a span of three starts. The announcement about surgery came a day after deGrom was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

Young said the latest MRI showed more inflammation and significant structural damage in the ligament that wasn’t there on the scan after deGrom left the game against the Yankees.

“The results of that MRI show that we have not made progress. And in fact, we’ve identified some damage to the ligament,” Young said. “It’s obviously a tough blow for Jacob, for certainly the Rangers. But we do feel this is what is right for Jacob in his career. We’re confident he’ll make a full recovery.”

Young and deGrom, who turns 35 later this month, said the goal is for the pitcher to return near the end of next season. Both said they were glad to have clarity on what was wrong with the elbow.

Texas won all six games started by deGrom (2-0), but the right-hander threw only 30 1/3 innings. He has a 2.67 ERA with 45 strikeouts and four walks. He threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees in his last start before leaving because of discomfort in his arm.

The Rangers went into Tuesday night’s game against St. Louis with a 39-20 record, the first time they were 19 games over .500 since the end of 2016, their last winning season.

Before going home to Florida over the weekend for the birth of his third child, deGrom threw his fifth bullpen last Wednesday in Detroit.

“I’d have days where I’d feel really good, days where I didn’t feel great. So I was kind of riding a roller coaster there for a little bit,” deGrom said. “They said originally there, we just saw some inflammation. … Getting an MRI right after you pitch, I feel like anybody would have inflammation. So, you know, I was hoping that that would get out of there and I would be fine. But it just didn’t work out that way.”

DeGrom spent his first nine big league seasons with the Mets, but was limited by injuries to 156 1/3 innings over 26 starts during his last two years in New York.

He had a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021 before missing the final three months of the season with right forearm tightness and a sprained elbow.

The four-time All-Star didn’t make his first big league start last year until Aug. 2 after being shut down late in spring training because of a stress reaction in his right scapula.

His latest injury almost surely will trigger Texas’ conditional option on deGrom’s contract for 2028.

The option takes effect if deGrom has Tommy John surgery on his right elbow from 2023-26 or has any right elbow or shoulder injury that causes him to be on the IL for any period of 130 consecutive days during any season or 186 days in a row during any service period.

The conditional option would be for $20 million, $30 million or $37 million, depending on deGrom’s performance during the contract and health following the 2027 season.

“I feel bad for Jake. If I know Jake, he’ll have the surgery and come back and finish his career strong,” second-year Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “I know how much it means to him. He enjoys pitching. It’s certainly sad news for all of us.”